World View: Former Syria Defense Minister Defects to Turkey

World View: Former Syria Defense Minister Defects to Turkey

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Russian landmark contest fiasco highlights widespread xenophobia
  • Defecting Syrian Army general may play transitional role

Russian landmark contest fiasco highlights widespread xenophobia

A contest intended to inspire patriotic good feelings in Russia hasturned into political disaster, highlighting the mutual xenophobiabetween ethnic (Orthodox Christian) Russians and (Sunni Muslim) NorthCaucasians.

The nationwide “Russia 10” contest was launched in March with thepurpose of selecting a symbol for the Russian Federation from a rosterof architectural and geographic landmarks across Russia’s nine timezones. Russian citizens voted online or by text message. The contestdrew little attention until July, when a public relations campaign inthe North Caucasus province of Chechnya, led by Chechen leader RamzanKadyrov, led to the “Heart of Chechnya Mosque” in Grozny shooting farinto first place. The mosque received almost 40 million votes, eventhough Chechnya’s population is only 1.3 million, because Russianswere allowed to vote as many times as they wanted, and because Muslimsall across Russia joined in. 

Well, this infuriated the ethnic Russian nationalists, who would finda mosque intolerable as Russia’s national landmark, and who started anonline “Anything but the mosque” campaign. Suddenly, in the last twodays of August, another building, Kolomensky Kremlin (citadel) inKolomna, suddenly received tens of millions of new votes, beating outthe mosque by only 400,000 votes. Kadyrov is screaming “blatantfraud,” and is demanding a refund of all the texting fees — millionsof dollars that the cell phone companies made in texting fees — andhas called for a boycott of the cell phone companies. The last roundof voting will is still in progress, but so far, all the contest hasdone is highlight the growing hatred between ethnic Russians and NorthCaucasians. Jamestown and RFERL

Defecting Syrian Army general may play transitional role

Reports indicate that Syria’s former defense minister General AliHabib has defected to Turkey. He was dismissed as defense minister in2011 when he broke with president Bashar al-Assad over the use of themilitary against civilian protesters. There are hints that theU.S. and the Russians are actually in agreement about something,namely that General Habib might play a role in a new Syrian governmentif al-Assad could be made to disappear. There have been numerousdefections from al-Assad’s government since 2011, but almost all ofthem have been Sunni Muslims. Habib’s defection would be significantbecause he’s a Shia/Alawite, so he could potentially represent theAlawite community in a deal to end the war. Hurriyet (Istanbul)

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